I made what may seem like an audacious claim in a recent article. I said that I believe it is possible for us to become "better people." I think some clarification is in order. I didn't mean to imply that we can become different people but rather better people, or more precisely, better versions of ourselves.
Susan Cain offers some helpful insight in her excellent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. (Sidebar: I highly recommend this book to anyone who works with two or more people in any capacity. I guarantee that after you read it you'll want to call and thank me for the recommendation.)
Ok, so you're probably getting impatient for me to get to the part about how we're all like rubber bands. Cain says, "We can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead. A sizable part of who we are is ordained by our genes, by our brains, by our nervous systems. We're all like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much." At the risk of provoking a theological argument, "Free will can take us far, but it cannot carry us infinitely beyond our genetic limits." So, realizing we are like rubber bands offers both good news and bad news. First, the bad news. There are limits to how much we can change. But then the good news. There are not nearly as many limits as most of us are inclined to believe.
So, the practical question for us is, "Given the character strengths we were born with, how do we make the most of them? How do we discover and develop them to their fullest potential?"
In one sense, that's a question we can ultimately only answer for ourselves even though the world is full of people offering an infinite variety of suggestions, recommendations, rules or lists that presume to put you on the right path. But, at the risk of contradicting myself, let me offer three actions that I think you will find on any such list, in some form or another. First, you must have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. Second, you need the will to pursue it. Third, you have to develop a plan reach your goal. No doubt you see both the simplicity and difficulty of those actions, though perhaps not the "recipe" that is frequently offered. I hope you also see their value. What else would you add to help you do some stretching toward your own personal growth? I'd love to hear from you.